TORCHWOOD screenwriter John Fay says he is very excited about the new series, which is ‘more ambitious’ than Children of Earth.
Fay, from Merseyside, wrote two episodes of Cof E - including the one where Ianto Jones died – and is the only British writer that showrunner Russell T Davies has brought into Torchwood:The New World’s creative team.
We met for a pint in a Liverpool pub to chat about Torchwood old and new, and why he offed everyone’s favourite Welsh tea boy. I must say too how grateful I was to John for the interview and being so generous with his time.
The New World
John recently returned from three weeks in Los Angeles, where he worked to storyline the 10-episode series alongside Davies, producer Julie Gardner and fellow writers Jane Espenson, John Shiban and Doris Egan.
It was an exerience that clearly left an impression on him, and has given him high hopes for TNW.
He said: “I’m very excited about The New World.
“Like anything in life you can rest on your laurels, or you can try to push on again and achieve something new. That is what Russell has done. On Children of Earth he had a very clear and defined vision, but what he has outlined for The New World is equally, if not more ambitious than before.
“I’m very proud of CofE and it was one of the few things I have been involved with when I watched the DVDs and thought ‘this is good’. Normally I look for flaws.
“It is early days for The New World, but having met the other writers and talked to Russell, I’ve every reason to think we’ll get somewhere close to where we were before.”
Torchwood’s American Dream?
John added he has no concerns about any possible Americanisation on the show after it became a co-production between the BBC and Starz.
“I was concerned when there was talk of the Torchwood going to Fox,” he said. “Then when Julie asked me if I wanted to write for the show again, she said they were working with Starz.
“To be honest I’d never heard of Starz, like most people I expect, but after looking into it I saw that the guy who runs the network used to run HBO. That was all I needed to know.
“He has to be ambitious but has one hell of a track record of producing adult and intelligent drama, just like Torchwood. What’s more Julie and Russell are still in charge. I’m sure it will stay as people would hope.”
Meeting his fellow writers in Los Angeles was a daunting experience John said. It also gave him his first taste of the American -style production process, as the writing team worked from 9-5 each day to hammer out the elements of each episode.
He added: “I mean, fucking hell, Russell has assembled one hell of a team and then there’s me! I was very impressed by the other writers when I went in to meet them.
“I knew Jane Espenson’s work from Battlestar Galactica, while I was delighted to talk to John Shiban too because Breaking Bad is one of my favourite shows at the moment. They all really know their stuff and that kind of expertise means everyone raises their game.
“We worked from 9-5 each day to storyline the show, but in much greater detail than I was used to from working in England. For instance in Children of Earth I was in Cardiff for three days with Russell, Julie, James Moran, Euros Lyn, Peter Bennet and Brian Minchin to work out the episodes from Russell’s vision.
“That was more ‘we want it to be kind of like this’, a looser structure, whereas in America we beat out every detail of each episode and went one step at a time. It was fascinating to see that approach.”
The result of all that hard work is a story told over 10 episodes with a worldwide focus John said, while not giving anything else away. That focus will inevitably shift from Cof E given the scorched earth fashion that series ended in with the Hub destroyed and the Torchwood team split up – seemingly for good.
John said: “We are starting from scratch to some degree, but what helps us is we have got such well established characters in Jack and Gwen that people know and love.
“We will be bringing new characters in too for a new audience, and telling a story that encompasses and could affect the whole world. Children of Earth was the same, but we will see more of the world this time than then.
“Obviously Torchwood is an established show with an clear history which we will refer too, but we have to embrace people who maybe haven’t seen any Torchwood before. If you get too self-referential it can get dull, so what’s gone before will be referenced, but in a subtle way.”
Killing Ianto Jones
For John, what’s gone before includes the death of one of the show’s most popular characters, Ianto Jones, in episode four of Children of Earth.
Ianto’s murder at the hands of The 456 represented one of the most dramatic moments in the Torchwood history and prompted a massive backlash from the show’s fans, demanding he was resurrected.In fact I kept looking around the Liverpool pub we met in to watch out for irate Ianto-ites massing in a corner.
John saw this loyalty as he puts it first hand when he attended Gallifrey One is Los Angeles earlier this year, but still believes the decision to kill him was the correct one.
“Russell wanted that to happen, although they are my words,” he said. “It was absolutely the right thing to do though from the point of view of the story and what it gave to the last episode.
“The strength of Torchwood and Russell’s vision is that you don’t know the heroes are going to survive. That’s been well established now!
“That adds a sense of jeopardy to the show which leaves everyone wondering what will happen next.”
He added Ianto’s death also allowed him to illustrate one of the costs of immortality for Captain Jack.
“In my mind, I was always aware that Jack had gone through this situation many times before, and that was really interesting to me. How do you have a relationship and fall in love with someone when you know – absolutely know – you will be around to see them die?
“That’s a real tragedy that Jack has to carry around with him, as well as a fascinating weight to hang around a character’s shoulders.”
And yet despite the reaction that scene generated, John still feels it was missing … something.
“At the time, Children of Earth was the first thing I had written after my dad died and I wonder if I feel that way because I was writing about my dad in some way through that time,” he mused.
“I still think I didn’t quite nail it. There is a line there that I never managed to put my finger on, or maybe didn’t want to.”
He added: “The line people quote back to me from Children of Earth was from the scene around the Cabinet table, where one of them says ‘if we can’t identify the least intelligent 10% of children, then what are league tables for?’
“When you get something right it stays with you, and I think that line of dialogue does. In the death scene, I wish there was something like that, but the scene and episode had a very strong reaction and I’m pleased about that.
“Maybe that’s the perfectionist in me talking too. They say you should never be completely satisfied with your work because that’s when it’s time to retire, so maybe it’s a good thing I feel that way.”
John’s quest towards perfection has already started when we spoke, with the first draft of his TNW work already with Russell T Davies in Los Angeles.
What that will become is for the future though, and as we sat in the pub, I leant forward to ask him my final question, the question I’m sure every Torchwood fan would ask given the chance.
Will you bring Ianto back, John?
He pauses, takes a drink from his pint, then leans forward, pondering ………
“I’m not going to answer that Neil, you’ll just have to watch and see,” he said.
* Torchwood The New World will begin filming later this year and broadcast in 2011.